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shame

If a boss made you feel stupid or a clique excluded you, you know what shame feels like.   Shame is a very uncomfortable topic.  Brené Brown, PhD, and well-known shame researcher says nothing shuts down a conversation like her response to the question, “What do you do?”

Shame is Human

All of us have experienced shame because, as Brown writes in The Gifts of Imperfection, it turns up in the most “familiar places, including appearance and body image, family, parenting, money and work, health, addiction, sex, aging, and religion. To feel shame is to be human.”  We humans are hard-wired for belonging because it was critical to the survival of our ancestors who couldn’t make it alone.

Cultivate Resilience

We feel shame when we believe that we don’t measure up to someone else’s standards for fitting in but we can win the shame game by cultivating resilience.  Here is how to do that:

  • Recognize the symptoms: you start down what Brown calls a shame spiral when you think, “I am a failure” instead of “I failed to deliver on my objectives this quarter.”
  • Share your story: since shame thrives in secret, talking with someone you trust takes away its power.  The #MeToo movement is a great example of this but you don’t have to go public.
  • Practice self-compassion: give yourself a break and treat yourself the way you treat other people you love and respect.

The author of A Wrinkle in Time  (the basis for a movie starring Oprah Winfrey) wrote, “People are more than just the way they look.”  How would you complete this sentence: “I am more than…”?

Have you ever been told, “You shouldn’t care so much what other people think”?  Caring what others think can come from wanting respect or trust, both of which are reasonable unless we let someone else decide whether we deserve them.

Don’t Let Others Define You

In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown says that we don’t need to stop caring about what other people think of us, but we don’t have to be defined by them.  What would you need to define yourself as someone who respects your own judgment and trusts your own instincts?

Listen to Yourself

Listen to yourself first – and last.  Seeking other opinions can be valuable in thinking through your options and validating your instincts but you’re the one who has to live with your decisions.  Try keeping track of your success rate for three months and be the one to identify what defines you.